April Fools’ Day

Today is the first of April and traditionally the day when people prank each other. I used to fall for the silly pranks my classmates in school used to do when we were much younger. I guess I was too trusting in nature and believed what was in front of me.

Also known as All Fools’ Day, the pranking done on April 1 is an annual custom on consisting of practical jokes and hoaxes. The player of the joke or hoax often exposes their action later by shouting “April fools” at the recipient. The recipients of these actions are called April fools. Mass media can be involved in these pranks, which may be revealed as such the following day. Although popular since the 19th century, the day is not a public holiday in any country. The only exception is Odessa in Ukraine, where the first of April is an official city holiday. Aside from April Fools’ Day, the custom of setting aside a day for the playing of harmless pranks upon one’s neighbour has historically been relatively common in the world.

While the origins of this day are obscure, some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. Some writers in French literature suggest that April Fools’ originated because in the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns, with a holiday that in some areas of France, specifically, ended on April 1 and those who celebrated New Year’s Eve on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates by the invention of April Fools’ Day. The use of January 1 as New Year’s Day became common in France only in the mid-16th century and the date was not adopted officially until 1564, by the Edict of Roussillon. The pranks in France included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.In the Netherlands, the origin of April Fools’ Day is often attributed to the Dutch victory in 1572 at Brielle, where the Spanish Duke Álvarez de Toledo was defeated.

Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.

In 1686, John Aubrey referred to the celebration as “Fooles holy day”, the first British reference. On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”. April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.

In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio and TV stations and Web sites have participated in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences. Some of the more interesting and perhaps well thoughtout pranks which fooled the public include the BBC prank in 1957, where they reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees; numerous viewers were fooled. In 1985, Sports Illustrated tricked many of its readers when it ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour. In 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, duped people when it announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1998, after Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” scores of clueless customers requested the fake sandwich. In 2008, the BBC reported on a newly discovered colony of flying penguins. An elaborate video segment was even produced, featuring Terry Jones walking with the penguins in Antarctica, and following their flight to the Amazon rainforest which fooled thousands of viewers. For a more comprehensive list of April Fool pranks, here’s a link on Wikipedia.

So did you prank a family member or friend? I would love to hear how you pranked someone or were a victim of someone’s prank in the comments below.

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